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Brigadier General James Wold


James William Wold was born in Minneapolis on this date in 1932, but his family’s roots were in ND. Decades earlier, his grandmother came to work for her aunt and uncle in Grand Forks, then moved back to Norway. In 1923, her 16-year-old son Peter came over and lived in Grand Forks. Little did Peter know what a big life his son would lead when he was born.

Jim Wold spent 27 years in the Air Force; they educated him first at the University of Michigan, then the Air Force Institute of Technology, and then the Harvard Business School. His first assignment was in England in 1954, flying the RB-45C Tornado, the Air Force’s first multi-engine jet reconnaissance bomber. In 1969, he was sent to Vietnam as a Major. He commanded a fighter aircraft unit of A-1H Skyraider gunships, flying 241 combat missions, many of which were search and rescues for fellow crewmen and other servicemen.

Wold rose to the rank of Brigadier General by age 41, making him one of the youngest generals of his time. Among his many commendations were 6 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 16 Air Medals, a Bronze Star, and the Legion of Merit Award.

In 1975, he and his wife, JoAnne, and their children were relocated to the USSR, where Jim served as Defense and Air Attache at the American Embassy in Moscow. The children ultimately wanted a place to call home, and after Jim retired from the service, he and JoAnne decided they would give them their wish. They settled near an ancestral home, in JoAnne’s family, located between Luverne and Cooperstown. They added on to the old farmhouse and turned it into Volden Farm Bread and Breakfast, overlooking the beautiful Sheyenne River Valley.

Meanwhile, Jim went back to school and graduated with a law degree from UND in 1981. He set up a private practice and eventually became the State’s Attorney for Griggs County. When studying his life, certain things stand out: first, he treasured his family; second, he loved trees – he planted rows and rows of them; and third, he was deeply spiritual. During a 2001 speech, he talked about an experience he’d had 30 years earlier, soon after arriving in Vietnam:

“I was still getting used to flying...under those conditions of mountainous terrain and bad weather,” he said. “We had been scrambled, my flight lead and I as his wingman, to destroy an Army UH-1 helicopter that had been shot down. It had crashed on the top of a grassy knoll...but there were papers left in it that (couldn’t) fall into the hands of the North Vietnamese. Our job was to set it on fire so that the papers would be burned. We were using rockets and our guns. Now the steeper the dive, the more accurate you are with both guns and rockets. The helicopter was a pretty small target, and we had to be accurate. So after we had trolled the area, and it seemed that no one was going to be shooting at us, we rolled in on the target.

“On my first pass,” he said, “I was steep. Too steep, in fact, and at that speed, as I pulled back on the stick, I found myself on the edge of a stall. That means you are trying to change your elevation too abruptly, the air passing over the wings becomes turbulent, and when you lose that smooth airflow over the wings, you lose your lift, and the airplane quits flying...

“(I) felt the shudder that precedes a stall,” he said, “(and) knew in an instant that I was too low to pull out, I couldn’t pull back any harder without stalling out...I remember that feeling as clearly as if it was yesterday. All I could do was yell, ‘God, help me!’ The airplane bottomed out from the dive, and it seemed to me that I was literally down in the weeds as it leveled out to where I could begin to gain altitude. And so I lived.”

Tune in tomorrow for part two of our story on Brigadier General Jim Wold.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm